Driving Tour Lake Tahoe: Tahoe City to Incline Village



If you are interested in this driving tour as an audio tour, the companion audio tour is available on VoiceMap and listed under Lake Tahoe.  To use VoiceMap, you will need to download the VoiceMap app from the Apple Store or Google Play. The app is free, this audio driving tour, which is one of three that takes you entirely around Lake Tahoe, is $9.99.  Happy Adventures and enjoy the tour! 

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Hello and welcome to this driving tour of Lake Tahoe.  I have lived in California all of my life and have been exploring Northern, Central and Southern California for decades.  I love to discover new areas as a hometown tourist and bringing adventures to life on these tours.  You may find more of my walking and driving tours at VoiceMap listed under my profile here



Our tour, which is a companion tour to my South Lake Tahoe to Tahoe City Driving Tour, begins in the parking lot of the Gatekeepers Museum located in William Layton Park at 130 W Lake Blvd., in Tahoe City.  

On this 20 mile tour we will drive north along Highway 28 through some of the charming northern towns along Lake Tahoe.  You will have the option of visiting museums, do some hiking, have lunch by the lake or do some shopping.  

Before we take our first walking tour of Tahoe City, let me give you a bit of background on the area. 



The Washoe Native people were the first to have hunted, gathered and fished along the shores of Lake Tahoe. Though they are thought to have been here much longer, archaeologists can trace their presence back about two thousand years.






The first business industry to arrive near Tahoe City was a wild hay harvesting business in 1862.  This was located on the land which became the Tahoe City Golf Course on the northwest side of town. At this time this fledgling community creeped along with little more than a few rough framed homes until Duane L. Bliss formed the Carson and Tahoe Lumber and Fluming Company in 1872 to supply lumber from Lake Tahoe to the silver mines in Nevada.  For the next 26 years this company cut 750 million board feet of logged lumber from the forests around Lake Tahoe.


Tahoe Tavern Rail Pier 


By the mid-1890’s the fortunes coming out of the Virginia mines began to vanish and Bliss’ vast stands of timber did as well.  In 1901, Bliss built the first resort in Tahoe City, the Tahoe Tavern. His narrow-gauge railroad which formerly transported timber, brought visitors from Truckee to his hotel, thus turning Tahoe City into a popular vacation stop for wealthy San Francisco socialites.

For a time Tahoe City was a summer playground.  But that would change in the early 1920s when locals discovered an area just south of the Tahoe Tavern that was perfect for skiing.  In 1926 the Southern Pacific Railroad “Snowball Special” was bringing visitors from Sacramento into Tahoe City which had now become a year-round resort town. 


Tahoe Tavern 1920 

Today Tahoe City is a vibrant and prosperous place to live, work and play.  With an average of 2,000 residents the population can swell to over 25,000 during big events, such as the Annual 4th of July Celebration or the winter Snowfest. 

Tahoe City offers a true Tahoe experience.  Along with the stunning lake views you will find museums, parks, specialty shops, coffee houses, and eateries scattered along the cobblestone sidewalk.

I have created two walking tours for Tahoe City.  The first one which is shown in the map below begins in the Gatekeepers Museum parking lot and visits Gatekeepers Museum, Lake Tahoe Dam, Fanny Bridge, North Lake Tahoe Visitor Center, and William Layton Park. 




Gatekeeper’s cabin was built of  lodgepole pine trees.  The one you see here today is a reconstruction of the original cabin used by the dam gatekeeper, the person who controlled the water flow out of Lake Tahoe.  Since no gatekeeper has been necessary since 1968,  this building is now run by the North Tahoe Historical Society,an organization founded by Betty Layton and Gardner Mein.

                                


On July 9, 1981 the Gatekeeper's Museum opened to the public and features the history of Lake Tahoe and includes exhibits on the area that illustrate Native Americans, local pioneers,



natural history and the Marion Steinbach Indian Basket collection with approximately 800 baskets from over 85 tribes.  There is a charge to visit this museum which is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. 


From here walk through William Layton Park to the Lake Tahoe Dam.  You will pass a number of informational plaques which explain the history of the area. 

 



The first dam on Lake Tahoe, a stone and timber crib, stretched across this outlet in 1870.  Water flow was restricted to float logs downstream and to generate power. 

Building the dam 1909 

In 1913, the Lake Tahoe Outlet Dam was completed across the mouth of the Truckee River.  A newly hired gatekeeper recorded daily lake levels and adjusted the 17 outflow gates as needed.


The original cabin on this site was built for the gatekeeper and his family.  Arthur Smith, the first Gatekeeper, and his wife Emma were the first to make this area their home.  The cabin had the community's only flush toilet and a telephone.  Emma died during the flu epidemic of 1918, and Arthur left.  

Leroy Paul, a University of Nevada Engineering School graduate served four years as gatekeeper.  William Simmons replaced him in 1923 and he and his wife Ida lived there for 24 years.   Art Frondenberg, Ida's son by a former marriage, became the next Gatekeeper in 1949 and served until 1960 when Daryl DeWalt, his son-in-law, became the last Gatekeeper. 


In 1968 the Federal Water Master based out of Reno, Nevada took over responsibility for the operation of this dam.  

The Tahoe Dam regulates the top six feet of  water from Lake Tahoe and distributes the outflow into the Truckee River.  It is Lake Tahoe’s primary outlet. As you walk along the back of the dam there are a number of historical pictures and interesting information. 




From here head over to the North Lake Tahoe Visitor Center where you  will find a selection of books, magazines and Tahoe nick-nacks as well as a public restroom. 




If you are extra adventurous you may purchase a bag of fish food from the docent for $1.50 then take this to Fanny Bridge to feed the trout. 



From the Visitors Center walk back toward the parking area, via the historic Fanny Bridge. According to Tahoe folklore, David Stollery, Jr., the road crew foreman in 1928 gave the bridge the name "Fanny McGillicuddy Wilkerson" in honor of his aunt.  The name was shortened over the years to Fanny Bridge.  However it may have received its name from more obvious circumstances. Built across the Truckee River at the lake's edge, Rainbow trout gather to feed at the outlet.  This attracts rows of people who line up along the rail and bend over the side for a better look at the trout.  The row of fannies visible may also have something to do with the name.  Anyway, make sure you lean over the bridge to have a look at the trout in the water below.



Before you leave the area, if you are interested in a snack or coffee we suggest The Dam Cafe or the Bridgetender Cafe. Both are located right across the street from Fanny Bridge.  


Alright it is time to get driving.  Exit the Gatekeepers Parking lot and turn right, cross Fanny Bridge and veer to your right to turn right onto West Lake Blvd.  We are on our way to Commons Beach for a scenic walk along the lake. 



Turn right onto Commons Beach Road then head left behind the Tahoe City Fire Station and park in the Commons Beach Parking area.  On Thursday's between May and October this parking lot is closed for the Farmers Market.  If you arrive on this day, you may park in the North Lake Tahoe Visitors Center parking lot.



The map above shows a 1/2 mile round trip walk along Commons Beach.  Along this walk you will have stunning views of the lake and, 

                                 

Commons Beach. 



Head north out of the parking lot and you will come to the Old Jail. 


By 1901, with its influx of workers and summer visitors, Tahoe City was in need of a bit of law and order.  Robert Montgomery Watson became the first constable. 


The jail was a dank concrete bunker on Commons Beach. Watson held the position until his death in 1932 at the age of 77.


Two acting constables served until early 1935, when Harry Edward Johanson became the town's second full-time peace officer.  Harry Jo, as he was known, was an accomplished amateur athlete, Hollywood stunt double, former Royal Canadian mounted Police Officer, and trained architect. He designed the second jail, the stone one here, where his prisoners had a view of the Tahoe City waterfront. Harry Jo retired in 1967, and today the old jail is used as a storage facility for the Tahoe City's Public Utility District.    

Continue along the walking path.  You will pass a public restroom.  From here take the stairs to your left.  These lead up to West Lake Blvd, The Watson Cabin and Heritage Plaza.  


The historic Watson's Log Cabin is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest log structure remaining in the north Lake Tahoe area.  The two-story cabin was built in 1908 by Robert Montgomery Watson, Tahoe City's first constable, and his youngest son Robert Howard Watson. 

They constructed it using local resources including hand-hewn logs chinked with cement, native stone for the fireplace and foundation, and deer horns decorating the exterior. The cabin was presented as a wedding gift to Robert and his new bride Stella Tong in 1909.  Their daughter Mildred was born and lived there for sometime. In the 1970s Mildred offered the property to the North Lake Tahoe Historical Society. The cabin is now a Living History Museum. 




Continue north from the cabin to Heritage Plaza.  This opened in 2007 and the interpretive panels found around the plaza were installed a year later.  


   

Here in the plaza you will also find a large grizzly bear statue covered in pennies! It is affectionately known as Penny Bear.  



Just past Penny Bear is Syd’s Bagelery another great place for a snack. 



 

From Sids, turn right into the parking lot and walk down back toward the lake.  Here you will come to the Tahoe City Marina.   



Turn right at the marina and follow the walking path along the lakefront back to Commons Beach and the parking lot. 





Back to the driving portion of our tour, exit the parking area the way you arrived and turn right onto North Lake Blvd. 



Continue straight on N. Lake Blvd. On your left you will see the distinctive clocktower and cobblestone walls of Cobblestone Center.  This shopping village is filled with charming shops, wine and tap rooms.  Our favorite, the Tahoe Tap Haus.  





As you continue along the road watch for the Watson Cabin and Penny Bear, they will be on your right.

We are heading out of Tahoe City and will be on this road, Highway 28 for the next 10 miles.  While you drive, I will tell you stories about this Lake Tahoe area.



In one mile, on your right, you will pass the Fish Hatchery.  This was constructed in 1920 by the California Fish and Game to hatch Cutthroat Trout, and Kokanee Salmon. However the cold waters of the lake caused the fish to grow too slowly to meet the demand and operations were discontinued in 1956.


Former Fish Hatchery Siegel & Strain Sustainable Design  



Between 1925 and 1928, author John Steinbeck lived and worked off and on in Lake Tahoe. During the summer of 1928, after completing his first novel, Cup of Gold, Steinbeck met his first wife Carol Henning while he was working as a tour guide at the fish hatchery. 

It was a whirlwind courtship and by September of that year they were engaged and moved together to San Francisco.



Today the fish hatchery is run by UC Davis as the Eriksson Education Center for science and research on how to protect Lake Tahoe for future generations.  

Behind this center is the Lake Tahoe U.S. Coast Guard Station, one of the  few inland units of the Guard in the United States.  The Lake Tahoe Coast Guard conducts over 200 search and rescue cases each year.  


  

The highway heads inland a bit as we enter the Dollar Point area. Originally this was part of Chinquapin, a name given to the area by the Washoe native peoples.  Chinquapin is a scrub tree with edible nuts that grew plentifully in the region.


Chinquapin 


In the early 1870s this now choice residential area was known as “Old Lousy.”  The name has a number of possible origins.  It may have come from the nickname given to an early homesteader of the area, or a reference to the area as being “lousy with trout.”

Whatever the origin the name became Promontory Point in the mid 1870s after it was considered for the site of San Francisco philanthropist James Lick’s observatory.  Ultimately the observatory would be built in the Santa Clara Valley on Mount Hamilton but Old Lousy was replaced by the more pleasant name, Observatory Point. 






In 1884 D. L. Bliss who was logging on the east shore near Glenbrook timbered 337 acres of Observatory Point. After logging in the area ended Bliss took over title to the land.

In 1916 Mrs. Laura Knight purchased the area and built a cluster of cabins around a main structure she named Wynchwood.  Ms. Knight sold the property to San Francisco shipping magnate Stanley Dollar, for which the area now takes its name. 




Ms. Knight then purchased the land near Emerald Bay and built Vikingsholm Castle.  We visit Vikingsholm on our South Lake Tahoe driving tour. 
 


The road curves back along the water as we pass Chinquapin a gated condominium complex.

The private cove along the shoreline at Chinquapin is the location of Ms. Knight’s historic Wynchwood Estate that I spoke about earlier.  Parts of this estate may be rented for weddings and other gatherings. 

One of the historic Wynchwood cabins


View from Cabins 



The next community, Cedar Flats rolls upward along the mountainside with many lakeview homes.  Some of the properties even back onto a hiking and cross country skiing area and many have private docks lakeside. 


Carnelian Bay is the next tiny Tahoe town.  It actually has its own zip code and is named for the semi-precious red and yellow stones that line the shoreline here. Carnelian Bay founded in the 1860s, is considered the sunny area of Tahoe with its location getting less snow and melting faster when it does. 


Carnelian Bay was a popular spot for boat racing and recreational boating in the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1990s it became the home to the most acclaimed and prestigious wooden boat show in all of North America, the Concours d’Elegance Wooden Boat Show.   In 2014 this event was moved south to Homewood on the Westshore.  




Coming up on your right, the white wooden building is Gar Woods restaurant,  famous for its Wet Woody cocktail, a delicious blending of 151 rum, peach schnapps and fruit juices.  It is also popular with boaters who park dockside.  Many with vintage wooden boats.




Next to Gar Woods is Carnelian West Beach a dog friendly public beach with free parking and restrooms.  





As you continue your drive, on your left after the beach is popular Carnelian Bay restaurant, the gray wooden Old Post Office Cafe.  Open for breakfast and lunch this is famous for, well at one time being a post office.  If you have time for lunch either Gar Woods or the Old Post Office Cafe would be a good choice. 




A mile or so past Old Post Office Cafe will be a location you can look across the lake and see Mount Rose, an extinct volcano located between Lake Tahoe and Reno. It is the highest and most topographically prominent peak of the greater Sierra Nevada range.



This section of our Lake Tahoe driving tour will end midway up Mount Rose in Incline Village with a  spectacular view back over Lake Tahoe.   

Continue straight along the highway and enjoy the charming old Tahoe cabins intermingled with more modern architecture. 


Besides being home to some of the best lake views, Tahoe Vista is home to the North Tahoe Regional Park, 124 acres of year-round recreation activities for all ages.


Children's Playground at North Tahoe Regional Park 


At this park during the summer you will find a children's playground, dog park, hiking and biking trails as well as Treetop Adventures where you may be challenged by a variety of bridges and ziplines.  During the winter this turns into a cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding area. 



Sledding at North Tahoe Regional Park 

To visit this park turn left at the traffic signal at National Avenue. Continue about 3/4 of a mile then take a left onto Donner Road. 




There is a $5 parking fee to visit this park which is a great example of a typical Sierra forest. After paying the parking fee continue into the park where there is also a public restroom.



If you have any interest in ziplining, or rope climbing Treetop Adventures is also located in this park. 


After exploring North Tahoe Regional Park, return to Highway 28 the way you came and turn left back onto Highway 28.  

Our next stop is Kings Beach in about one mile which sits on beautiful Agate Bay.  Kings Beach is a small but charming north Lake Tahoe town.  Local lore has it that the name originated from a card shark named Joe King who won the town in a poker match. 


I can not vouch for the truth of this lore, but I can say that the $50 million improvement project recently finished in 2020 through the downtown corridor of this quaint north Tahoe town provides easy access for tourists and residents alike to visit  the funky shops, eateries and rustic family-run motels.  For meals here in Kings Beach, we are particularly fond of Jason's Beachside Grille



Enter the round-about ahead and take the first right off the round-about into the parking area for Kings Beach State Recreation Area. There is a charge to park here.  


Kings Beach is a large sandy public beach with picnic tables under stately Jeffrey pine trees. There is also a public restroom and a playground. 



After exploring the beach, turn right back onto Highway 28 and continue straight toward Stateline.  



Early travel in the Lake Tahoe basin was along Washoe Native American trails.  In the 1840s these trails were used by the first immigrants to the area. 
These first roads were little more than improved trails. 


John Calhoun Johnson 


Johnson's Pass, named after trailblazer John Calhoun "cock-eyed" Johnson, was the first reliable road over the Sierras.  The route followed the American River across the south end of the Tahoe basin.  In 1859 it was a teeming thoroughfare between California and Nevada during Virginia City's silver rush.  Several years later, the Lake Bigler Toll Road, near Glenbrookimproved overland travel in the region. 
Still during this time period the most reliable means of travel in the Tahoe basin was by train or boat. 


Steamer Tahoe - Library of Congress 



That all changed in 1911 with the automobile.  This section of highway you are on now, State 28 from Tahoe City to the Nevada state line was completed in 1915. The first portion of highway around Lake Tahoe was completed in 1913 and the final sections were completed on the Nevada side between 1931 and 1932.  

You are now in Brockway on the north shore of Lake Tahoe at Stateline Point, adjacent to the Nevada border.  Soon we will be turning off the highway onto Calaneva Drive to visit the location of Summertide, at one time the home of Howard Hughes.  Calaneva Drive is adjacent to the large Cal Neva Resort Spa and Casino sign.  Keep driving and watch for the sign.  


Up ahead off to the right you should see the sign for the historic Cal Neva Resort & Casino.  Slow down and veer to the right off the highway down the road toward the sign. We are on our way to Summertide, which at one time was owned by Howard Hughes.


Howard Hughes (1938)

After the stop sign ahead continue straight on Cala Neva Road. Drive slowly on this narrow road. On your right will be the Cal Neva resort.  It is behind a chain link fence as it is undergoing renovations. 

Cal Neva 1921 

The Cal Neva Resort, originally built in 1926, was during its heyday in the 1960s partly owned by Frank Sinatra.


Cal Neva 1962 



Frank Sinatra 


Oracle chairman Larry Ellison purchased the property in 2017 and is renovating back to a hotel and casino. 

North Lake Tahoe Fire Station #12 



Continue along Cala Neva Road past the fire station and watch for the Summertide sign on your right.  It will be over a wooden gate.  


Gate at Summertide 



This is private property, but from the street side of the gate you may view the two historic buildings that make up this estate.  The 2,500 square foot main house built of local timber in 1934 and the 1,300 square foot guesthouse built in 1940. Tasker and Daisy Oddie were the first occupants of the property, Tasker served in the U.S. Senate and was the 12th governor of Nevada.   From 1950 to 1976 this estate was owned by the reclusive business magnate Howard Hughes. 

Summertide (Reno Gazette Journal) 



While some have written that Hughes threw lavish parties there and rubbed elbows with Hollywood royalty, notorious gangsters and titans of industry, other say that it is quite possible Hughes never set foot on his property.  Whatever the truth is, we do know that the Howard Hughes Company sold the property in 1995 for $3.5 million dollars. These owners, who made very few changes to the property over the years sold their incredible estate with over 500 feet of lake frontage and 180 degrees of waterfront views in 2018 for $17.5 million.

Alright let’s get going. Continue along CalaNeva back to Highway 28. Our next stop is for an optional 1 ¾ mile round trip hike to the Stateline Fire Lookout trail. 


When you come to the corner ahead for Highway 28 make sure to look left to see the Crystal Bay Club and Tahoe Biltmore casinos, then turn right onto Highway 28. 

In less than 1/8th of a mile turn left onto Reservoir Road, then a right onto Lakeview Avenue as we make our way to the Stateline Fire Lookout Trailhead. 





Up ahead you will see a sign for a "y" in the road.  Stay to the left on Lakeview Avenue.  Shortly you will come to another "y". To the left will be a gate for the trailhead for Stateline Fire Lookout.  Do not park in front of the gate.  There are a few parking spaces on the right side of Lakeview Avenue.  Park here off the road for the Stateline Fire Lookout Trail.



This 1 ¾ round trip hike follows a paved road to the top of Stateline Peak to the site of an old fire lookout.  It is a stiff uphill climb to the lookout.  There is a map below of the hike.  




Once at the lookout there is a short loop trail that circles the upper part of the hill.  There are porta-potties at the lookout and a few benches for resting.  Here are some pictures of our hike in January 2021. 












Once you have explored Stateline Peak follow Lakeview back the way you came.  Turn left on Reservoir Road and left back onto Highway 28. 

This portion of your drive is along Crystal Bay, a small north shore community that sits upon a granite boulder strewn point and straddles the California Nevada stateline.  Lake Tahoe, here at Crystal Bay measures the deepest at 1645 feet.  



We are now on the outskirts of Incline Village, established in 1882, this north Tahoe town has deep ties with the lumber and logging industry.

The Sierra Nevada Wood and Lumber Company formed in 1878 and operated on the northeastern side of Lake Tahoe.  This operation floated lumber in log rafts across the lake to a mill, then an incline railway that ran through Incline Village, transported the lumber up to the summit where lumber were loaded into a V-flume and then traveled by gravity down the western side of the mountain to Carson City Nevada.


George Whittell Jr. 


In 1935 George Whittell purchased 40,000 acres of landing, including 27 miles of shoreline, from the lumber companies. Between 1938 and 1959,  Whittell sold off parcels of this land in the Incline Village area.  Over 60 separate transactions were sold to private owners for residential development along Lakeshore Boulevard.

One of the larger parcels was sold to Crystal Bay Development Company in 1959.  This development company was largely responsible for the development of Incline Village as it stands today.  By 1968 over three thousand homes had been built in the village. 


Continue straight on Highway 28, we are on our way to our last stop.  Up ahead watch for the round-about. 

Enter the round-about ahead and take the second exit marked Reno and continue straight on the Mount Rose Highway Nevada 431.


Continue straight on Nevada 431 also known as the Mount Rose Highway. 



While you drive let me tell you one last story.  For this one I need to take you back to 1861 when 25 year old Samuel Clemens and his brother Orion arrived by stagecoach in Carson City.  Orion to assume duties as the Nevada Territory secretary, and Clemens to escape fighting in the Civil War.


Mark Twain age 31 (1866) 


But with no job, Clemens decided to set out with an acquaintance and find this marvelous beauty of a lake that the everyone was talking about.  They set out on foot from Carson City and here is how he describes it in his book Roughing It:

"We toiled laboriously up a mountain about a thousand miles high and looked over.  No lake there. We toiled up another mountain three or four thousand feet high and looked again.  No lake yet.  We plodded on, two or three hours longer, and at last the lake burst upon us– a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft [a] full three thousand feet higher still! As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface, I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”

Samuel Clemens would go on to spend three years working and writing in the Tahoe area.  In 1863 while working for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise he first signed one of his articles with what would become his pen name, Mark Twain.

Continue straight we are coming to our last stop and the end of this driving tour from Tahoe City to Incline Village, the Lake Tahoe Scenic Overlook.  




 
From this location you will be taking in the view of Lake Tahoe that Mark Twain took in for the first time over 150 years ago.  Interpretive panels will help you locate surrounding mountain peaks and other points of interest.  




Now this is where I am leaving you.  I hope that you have enjoyed your driving tour from Tahoe City to Incline Village and all of the stops in-between.

I have two other companion tours to this one, South Lake Tahoe to Tahoe City, and Incline Village to South Lake Tahoe.   Until next time, Happy Adventures!
 

All photos by L. A. Momboise unless listed below: 

Washoe - Library of Congress 
D. L. Bliss and Elizabeth Bliss - Find a Grave 
Tahoe Tavern - University of Nevada collection by C O Valentine 
Tahoe Fish Hatchery - Photo by Siegel & Strain 
John Steinbeck - Photo Wikipedia 
Chinquapin - Photo Wikipedia 
Pictures of North Tahoe Regional Park - Website 
Pictures of TreeTop Adventures - Website 
John Calhoun Johnson - Find a Grave 
Steamer Tahoe - Library of Congress 
Howard Hughes 1938 - Wikipedia 
Cal Neva 1962 and Frank Sinatra - Wikipedia 
Summertide - Reno Gazette Journal 
The Saw Mill - Library of Congress 
George Whittell Jr. - Onlinenevada.org
Mark Twain age 31 (1866) - Wikipedia 

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